Detail from a drawing by Karin Knudsen for David Drew-Smythe's short story "All the King's Horses"   1982Page 1 of this articleAncestor Index Ancestor Index
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Smyth and the Unicorn - Page 2

At the risk of presenting logic along the lines that "a lemon is a yellow fruit and so, because bananas are yellow and are also fruit, they must be lemons" - these two pages were designed to explore the heraldic device of the unicorn which appears so significantly in a variety of arms granted to sundry Smyths over the centuries - and to consider also the ancestry associated with the unicorn emblem.

The Unicorn, the Bible and ancient ancestral connections ...

The anecdotal placing of the crown over the unicorn helm of 'Smyth of Acre' is significant in that it shows that the unicorn was already a device used - and, presumably, used by right - by this ancestor of the Smyth family. The adopted motto, coming from a biblical reference, is equally significant for reasons that will be seen below. It is also interesting to observe that some Smyth/Smith arms contain the head of a bull in place of a unicorn. Note these words: "His glory is like a firstborn bull, and his horns [weapons] are like the horns of a wild ox" (Deuteronomy 33:17).

It should be borne in mind also that, historically, the unicorn was not always depicted as being akin to a horse, as shown in most illustrations. In early representations it had the head of a goat and was cloven hoofed. Its tail was long and slender. It was seen as posessing mythical powers - specific details of which are beyond the scope of this article - but throughout history, the unicorn, as a device in heraldry, has been proudly carried by just a few members of a small number of families. The unicorn itself was (and still is) a significant beast for many peoples in many lands but, through the development of heraldry it came to be recognised as a device signifying extreme courage, virtue and strength. For members of certain Smith/e - Smyth/e families, and for those others who bear elements of the unicorn in their arms, its origins can be traced back through several thousand years to biblical times via the supposed great uncle of Jesus of Nazareth.

Henry Tudor ... lineal ancestor in the maternal lineThe unicorn was a possible interpretation of the Oryx - either way, it was the emblem of Ephraim whilst the lion was the symbol of Judah. Both now support the British royal coat of arms. Additionally, and perhaps more pertinently, an early ancestor of King Henry (VII) Tudor of England - (click on rose image) - and therefore ancestor to many persons treated on this site - is said to have been Caradoc - known also as Caractacus who was a King of the Welsh Silures during the early years of the Christian era. His son, Cyllin, and his daughter, Eigen, are both ranked among the British saints. Eigen, married a British chieftain and another daughter, Gwladys, was adopted by the Roman Emperor Claudius in exchange for his own daughter, being given in marriage to Caradoc in the hope of ending hostilities between Britain and Rome. Gwladys changed her name to Claudia when she married a Roman patrician by the name of Aulus Rufus Pudens Pudentius.

Caradoc (Caractacus) was, in turn, connected (as many believe and several have tried to show) to Joseph of Aramathea who was - according to the Talmud - the youngest brother of the father of Mary whose son was Jesus of Nazereth, born in Bethlehem.

Joseph of Aramathea

Joseph of Aramathea was one of the disciples of - and thus also a great uncle to - Jesus and it is known that he claimed the body of his great nephew after the crucifixion and then placed it in an empty portion of his family tomb. Joseph's daughter, Anna, is reputed to have married an English king - quite possibly Caractacus, who was later married to a daughter of the Emperor Claudius. The families Royal of Britain, it would appear, are therefore "many times over the descendants of Solomon and Nathan". For a comprehensive discussion concerning these historical, religious and genealogical aspects - as well as other matters of biblical descent, follow the link to this website.

As with all such texts, it looks at the world through one particular religious window and the philosophies expressed are not necessarily the views of this writer. However, the background material is well documented and there is much of interest that is relevant to the themes touched on here.

The town of Aramathea is more often spelled Arimathea, being called Arimathaim in the Septuagint and Amartha by the historian, Josephus. It stood where present day Ramallah now stands, just a short (and troubled) distance to the north of Jerusalem. Joseph was a nobleman and a wealthy merchant. He had extensive business interests in Britain - notably in the tin and copper trade. St. Jerome writes that Joseph's official title was 'Nobilis Decurio', essentially a minister of mines for the Roman Empire, with direct access to Pontius Pilate himself. 

The tin and copper trade in Britain had been monopolised by the Phoenicians who originally came from that same area in the Middle East. They traded and settled in Britain some three thousand years ago, moving through Tyre, which was the port and capital of Phoenicia or Asher or Israel. The Phoenicians were attracted to the "Tin Isles" - the Britannic Isles - because of the valuable and extensive deposits found there, deposits not recorded anywhere else in the known world of the time. As a result, the trade was very highly prized. Tin, when mixed with copper, becomes the metal, bronze, a process that had given its name to a specific era in the development of humankind - the "Bronze Age".

Joseph of Aramathea was an inheritor of these early exploitations. He lived in Britain for varying periods in his professional capacity. However, in later years, he had cause to settle there permanently and chart the course of history. In the unrest that followed the crucifixion, it would not have been a step into the unknown for Joseph, his family, associates and some of the other disciples, to flee to a familiar land where he already had 'friends in high places' - Britain; which is what seems to have happened, landing first in France and then crossing to Britain, taking with him a number of possessions - artefacts of the era. The legends of the Holy Grail (the drinking vessel used at 'the last supper' of Jesus and the disciples) as originally being hidden in Britain are thus well founded! He was already well acquainted with the British kings - Beli, Lud, Llyr (King Lear) and Arviragus. They gave him and his companions twelve 160 acre parcels of land and he became the traditional founder of the Christian settlement of Glastonbury, in Somerset. He died at Glastonbury on July 27th, 82 CE, and - according to Cressy, the Benedictine Monk and historian - on his tombstone was written, in Latin, "After I had buried the Christ, I came to the Isles of the West; I taught; I entered into my rest."

Connection with these early beginnings and the generations that followed would, no doubt, account for so many Smith/e - Smyth/es being associated with the church in all its various adherencies!

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The Lion and the Unicorn

Many people are familiar with these verses attached to "The Lion and the Unicorn" - here recited as an inocuous enough English nursery rhyme for children, depicting the political struggles of the realm symbolised by the lion and the unicorn.

The Lion and the Unicorn
Were fighting for the crown;
The Lion beat the Unicorn
All about the town.

Some gave them white bread
And some gave them brown;
Some gave them plum cake
And drummed them out of town!

What many people may not be aware of is that the mythical origin of the struggle between them goes back even further - as far back as the mythology of Egypt where Sut struggled for supremacy with Osiris/Horus. Another version of the same rhyme reads as:

The Lion and the Unicorn
Were fighting for a farthing,
The Lion beat the Unicorn
Up and down the garden!

The Lion and the Unicorn
Were fighting for a crown,
The Lion beat the Unicorn
Up and down the town!

The unicorn was a type of Sut - the Lion, Osiris or Horus. The crown - and the prize of the contest - was light and ownership of that clear, bright disc of the moon in the sky. The farthing represents a fourth part and they fought over a fourth part (a quarter) of the moon, which equates to the seven days during which darkness was put to flight. This Egyptian imagery and the arms of England illustrate the same struggle.

The "Old Damascus" Rose

The 'Old Damascus Rose' - the red rose which is elemental to the Tudor Rose, is also called ' The Apothecary's Rose' and was brought back to Europe by the Knights Templars. It was first adopted as an emblem in England by Edmund, First Earl of Lancaster. and it was from the House of Lancaster - in Lancashire a county that also appears to have been the stronghold of early armigerous Smith/e - Smyth/es - that Henry VII (Tudor) descended.

'The red Apothecary's Rose was first cultivated in ancient Persia. Actually, all true red roses originated in China but were traded and then hybridized in Persia. Persian legend maintains that the red colour of the 'Old Damascus Rose' came about because a nightingale loved the sweet smelling White Damask Rose (Rosa alba) so much that it grasped it too tightly one day and the sharp thorns pierced the bird's breast; its blood turned the white rose red and a new rose was born.

The fragrant petals of this red rose were dried and rolled into beads then strung into what became known as a 'rosary' and from this, it is said, comes the name of the ecclesiastical 'Rosary'. Today, it is one of the oldest roses to survive in cultivation. Its petals retain their fragrance when dried and even when powdered and thus it gave rise to a once important industry in preserves and confections. It was also cultivated for its medicinal values - hence one of its names - and one of its 'non prescription' uses by the 16th century was to use its dried petals, soaked in wine, to be taken as a cure for hangovers - although this idea was not new. The Romans had used roses for the same common affliction some 1200 years before!

"One story," - writes American rose enthusiast, Mark Whitelaw, in an article about this rose - "says that the rose was returned to King Louis VII after the Second Crusade in Syria. Since England, in those days, also included Normandy, Brittany and Aquitaine, the rose made its way to King Henry II. Henry had married Queen Eleanor of Aquitaine, but he also had a mistress named Jane Clifford, later renamed (according to legend) 'The Fair Rosamond'. Queen Eleanor got wind of this affair, concocted a poison to give her husband’s mistress and disguised the deadly potion with the oil of the Apothecary’s Rose and R. alba. After Rosamond’s death, so the legend goes, a new rose sprouted outside the castle - one of both red and white stripes - called 'Rosa mundi'. To this day, R. mundi, a genetic “sport” of the Apothecary’s Rose, will sometimes revert to its original heritage."

Don't we all? I shall away immediately and marinade some rose petals in wine; but the question is - which? White or red?

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Site Note

Schiller, Friedrich von, (1759-1805), German Poet: (ennobled in the Holy Roman Empire 1802).
Arms: Party per fess Or and Azure, in chief a demi-Unicorn Argent, and in base a fess of the first.
Crest: On a Laurel Wreath proper, a coronet Or, out of which a demi-Unicorn as in the arms.
Mantling: Azure and Or.

Whilst a number of German families - several of them cousins to English families of the era - have used the unicorn device in their arms, a question needs to be asked: Is it significant that the following event took place whilst Henry James Drew Smythe (Jimmy) was in Bavaria as a member of the International Commission for the Repatriation of Prisoners of War, immediately after the close of hostilities of World War 1?

Writing from Bavaria on January 7th 1919, Jimmy stated in a letter to his wife, Enid (Cloutman) who was nursing at a hospital in Boulogne, as follows:- "On Sunday we did nothing special but went to the American Church to Service in the morning and took Communion there. In the afternoon we slept (methinks) and at 5o'clock we went to call on the Baroness Gleichen who had asked Dr. Schueeli if he would ask me to have tea with her. He also came soon after we had arrived. Her husband, Baron Gleichen, is a writer of socialistic ideas but moderate in his views and he has spoken out all through the war against Germany's doings and even starting the war. She is the great-niece of Schiller, the great German poet and she has all sorts of his pictures, works and furniture and a very fine painting of him. She has also some other old paintings and etchings, one by Goethe and a lot of real Wedgwood china. She spoke English very well and was altogether very interesting and the things in her house were even more so. She asked if she might present the Colonel and I with one of her husband's books each and we accepted and she is to send them to our hotel ... "

Two questions (lemons and bananas again) 1. Why would Baroness Gleichen ask specifically to meet him unless perhaps she knew of him via some pre-war family or other connection? Connected via the unicorn, perhaps? And 2. Is the interest in Wedgwood china significant? Living memory currently recalls that Jimmy and Enid posessed a very fine Wedgwood collection and that Josiah as a first name appears somewhere in Smyth/e family lineage ...

For the full story of this period in Bavaria, when Jimmy was on the International Commission for the Repatriation of Prisoners of War, see the Dearest Blue Eyes zone on this site. He wrote several letters to Enid. She was at the Hotel Crystal, Boulogne, serving as a V.A.D. They had been married in November 1914, soon after the outbreak of World War 1 and saw each other only on infrequent leave opportunities. This is the portrait of a relationship as much as an observation, with anecdotes, contained within a complete personal report of a few weeks of his work and travels in Germany and Austria less than two months after the Armistice that ended The Great War.

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The Unicorn of Sterling - monument in the Market PlaceI am still not sure whether or not bananas are lemons - but it has been fascinating trying to find out. Perhaps others with greater insight or historical knowledge may care to contribute to the unicorn debate in relation to the Smyth ancestry and/or unicorn heraldry. As they say, "corrections and information welcome"!

Above all, be it known that the unicorn is a survivor! The Royal Burgh of Sterling in Scotland has the statue of a unicorn mounted high up on a column, holding the Royal Coat of Arms on a shield. Indeed, Stirling always had a close association with the royal household of Scotland because of the castle.

Like so many towns throughout Britain, there was a market cross in or near the market place where people came to trade and strike bargains or to sign important contracts in the days before 'municipal facilities'. However, during the 1700s, Sterling's cross was removed from Broad Street and it was not replaced until 1891. By this date, the unicorn was all that remained of the original features of the "Mercat Cross". But remain it did!

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